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Dien Bien Phu, Bad Strategy, Bad Assumptions, & Defeat: COVID 19 and Worse than Bad Outcomes

Dien Bien Phu War Remnants

Dien Bien Phu Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sixty-six years ago the ragged and starving remnants of a French expeditionary Force was dying an excruciating death at Dien Bien Phu. They were the victims of a wrong war, a failed strategy, and the arrogance of their high command. They were sacrificed on the false belief that if they defeated the Main Force of the Viet Minh in a conventional battle, that they would win the war and dictate the terms of peace. But it was a battle in which they chose bad ground, and could not receive the full benefit of their more advanced weaponry because they were sent to fight in an area too far from their supporting forces. Likewise they were fighting a far more resourceful and better led adversary, that was not fighting for empire, but independence. Something that Americans who really know our history should understand.

Dien Bien Phu was an epic battle in a tragic war. Sadly, most people today neither know or care what happened in the valley where the small border post named Dien Bien Phu became synonymous with futile and forgotten sacrifice.

Over the years fewer and fewer remembrances took place. Some are in Vietnam and others in France.  In 2018, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe laid a wreath at the French Monument at Dien Bien Phu, accompanied by several elderly veterans of the battle. The French veterans were met with kindness by their former opponents.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe at Dien Bien Phu’s French Memorial

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General Vo Nguyen Giap in 2011

Years before, on May 7th 2011 in Hanoi a small remembrance was held to mark the fall of Dien Bien Phu and honor the victor, 101 year old General Vo Nguyen Giap at his home. Giap was the last senior commander on either side at that time, and he died a year and a half later at the age of 102.

That 2011 ceremony was one of the few remembrances held anywhere marking that battle which was one of the watersheds of the 20th Century. A half a world away in Houston Texas a small group of French veterans, expatriates and historians laid a wreath at the Vietnam War Memorial.  In Paris an ever shrinking number of French survivors used to gather each year on May 7th at 1815 hours for a religious service at the Church of Saint Louis des Invalides to remember the dead and missing of the French Expeditionary Corps who were lost in Indochina. A small number of other small ceremonies were held as late as 2014. There appear to be no services to honor their memory this year, especially since COVID 19 has ensured that no significant public memorials are possible, but even before this year the ranks of few men left from the battle pretty much have doomed such ceremonies,

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Legionnaires of the Second Foreign Legion Parachute Battalion at Dien Bien Phu 

This battle is nearly forgotten by time even though it and the war that it symbolized is probably the one that we need to learn. We didn’t learn them in Iraq, or Afghanistan.

 

Captured French soldiers are marched through the fields after their surrender at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. More than 10,000 French troops were captured after a 55 day siege . The French defeat ended nearly a century of French occupation of Indochina. (AP Photo/Vietnam News Agency)

French Prisoners

On May 8th 1954 the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu surrendered to the Viet Minh.  It was the end of the ill-fated Operation Castor in which the French had planned to lure the Viet Minh Regulars into open battle and use superior firepower to decimate them.  The strategy which had been used on a smaller scale the previous year at Na Son.

The French had thought they had come up with a template for victory based on their battle at Na Son in how to engage and destroy the Viet Minh. The plan was based on what the French called the “Air-land base.”  It involved placing strong forces in an easily defensible position deep behind enemy lines supplied by air.

At Na Son the plan worked as intended. The French were on high ground, had superior artillery, and air Support close at hand. Likewise they were blessed by General Giap using human wave assaults against their fortress, which made the Viet Minh troops cannon fodder for the French defenders. Despite that, Na Son was a near run thing for the French and had almost no effect on Viet Minh operations elsewhere while tying down a light division equivalent and a large portion of French air power.

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Viet Minh Regulars

The French took away the wrong lesson from Na-Son and attempted to repeat what they thought was success at Dien Bien Phu.  The French desired to use Dien Bien Phu as a base of operations against the Viet Minh.  Unfortunately the French chose badly. Instead of high ground that they chose at Na Son, they elected to occupy a marshy valley surrounded by hills covered in dense jungle. They went into the battle light on artillery, and the air head they established was at the far end of the range of French aircraft, especially tactical air forces which were in short supply.  To make matters worse, General Navarre, commander of French forces in Indochina was informed that the French government was going to begin peace talks and that he would receive no further reinforcements. Nevertheless,  he elected to continue the operation.

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French Paras Drop into Dien Bien Phu

Once on the ground French logistics needs were greater than the French Air Force and their American contractors could supply.  French positions at Dien Bien Phu were exposed to an an enemy who held the high ground, and had more powerful artillery. They also placed their units in defensive positions that were not mutually supporting, and were under constant surveillance by the Viet Minh. The terrain was so poor that French units were incapable of any meaningful offensive operations against the Viet Minh. As such they could only dig in and wait for battle. Despite this, many of their positions were not adequately fortified, and their artillery was in emplaced positions that were easily targeted by Viet Minh artillery, which were not hardened against artillery fire, and were completely exposed to the enemy once they opened fire.

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Major Marcel Bigeard 

The French garrison was a good quality military force composed of veteran units. It was comprised of French and Vietnamese paratroopers, known as Paras, Foreign Legion parachute and infantry units, French Colonials (Marines), North Africans and Vietnamese troops. Ordinarily in a pitched battle on a better choice of battle, these forces would have done well. But this was no ordinary battle and their Viet Minh opponents were equally combat hardened, well led and well supplied and fighting for their independence.

Many of the French officers including Lieutenant Colonel Langlais and Major Marcel Bigeard commander of the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion were among the best leaders in the French Army. Others who served in Indochina including David Galula and Roger Trinquier would write books and develop counter-insurgency tactics which would help Americans in Iraq. Unfortunately the French High Command badly underestimated the capabilities and wherewithal of General Giap and his crack divisions on such a battlefield. This was not a counterinsurgency campaign, but a conventional battle in which the French discovered that they were in no position to win.

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Viet Minh Supply Column

Giap rapidly concentrated his forces and built excellent logistics support.  He placed his artillery in well concealed and fortified positions which could use direct fire on French positions. Giap also had more and heavier artillery than the French believed him to have.  Additionally he brought in a large number of anti-aircraft batteries whose firepower, effectively used from well concealed positions enabled the Viet Minh to take a heavy toll among the French aircraft that attempted to supply the base.

Unlike at Na-Son, Giap did not throw his men away in human assaults.  Instead he used his Sappers (combat engineers) to build protective trenches leading up to the very wire of French defensive positions. These trenches provided both concealment and protection from the French. In time these trenches came to resemble a spider web that enveloped the French base.

Without belaboring my point, the French fought hard as did the Viet Minh. However, one after another French positions were overwhelmed by accurate artillery and well planned attacks.  The French vainly hoped for U.S. air intervention, even to the possibility of the United States would uses nuclear weapons against the Viet Minh. President Dwight Eisenhower was a realist, and despite the advice of men like General Curtis LeMay refused to exercise either a conventional or nuclear response to rescue the French from a debacle of their own making. Eisenhower understood that the American people were not about to enter another Asian war so soon after the armistice in Korea.

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French Wounded Awaiting Medivac 

Relief forces were unable to get through the Viet Minh and the severer terrain which limited their movements and prevented the use of armored and mechanized units. Thus, the garrison at Dien Bien Phu died, despite the bravery of the Paratroops. Colonials and Legionaries.

The French garrison was let down by their high command and their government and lost the battle due to inadequate logistics and air power. The survivors endured a brutal forced march of nearly 400 miles on foot to POW camps in which many died. Many soldiers who survived the hell of Dien Bien Phu were subjected to torture, including a practice that we call “water boarding.”

General Georges Catroux who presided over the official inquiry into the debacle at Dien Bien Phu wrote in his memoirs: “It is obvious that there was, on the part of our commanding structure, an excess of confidence in the merit of our troops and in the superiority of our material means.”

Despite the torture they endured, few French troops caved to the Viet Minh interrogations and torture but some would come away with the belief that one had to use such means to fight the revolutionaries.  Some French leaders, units and their Algerian comrades would apply these lessons against each other within a year of their release from Viet Minh Captivity. French soldiers and officers were shipped directly from Indochina to Algeria to wage another protracted counterinsurgency often against Algerians that they had served alongside in Indochina. The Algerian campaign proved to be even more brutal and it was lost politically before it even began. The film Lost Command, and the novel The Centurions by Jean Lartenguy exposed this brutal truth, as did Alistair Horne’s Classic A Savage War of Peace did as well.

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The March to Captivity

The wars in Indochina and Algeria tore the heart out of the French Army. The defeats inflicted a terrible toll. In Indochina many French career soldiers felt that the government’s “lack of interest in the fate of both thousands of missing French prisoners and loyal North Vietnamese…as dishonorable.” Divisions arose between those who served and those who remained serving NATO in France or Germany. This created bitter enmity between soldiers who had already endured the aftermath of the First World War, the defeat of 1940 by Germany, the division of Free French Forces, and those of the Nazi allied Vichy government.

Those divisions in the French military and society remained well after the war and those divisions were fully on display in Indochina and Algeria. 

As a result France would endure a failed military coup which involved many who had fought in Vietnam and Algeria. Having militarily won that war these men called “The Centurions” by Jean Lartenguy had been turned into liars by their government. By military Standards they had successful used counterinsurgency tactics to win the war in a military sense, although their opponents still remained.  These men were forced to abandon those who they had fought for and when President De Gaulle declared that Algeria would be granted independence, the men who had sacrificed so much mutinied against their government.

But the mutiny had little popular support, the people rallied around De Gaulle, and it failed. Many of the leaders, including senior generals and admirals who took part in, supported, or knew about the mutiny were tried, imprisoned, exiled or disgraced. The Colonial troops from Indochina, or North Africa who remained loyal to France were left without homes in their now “independent” nations. many Algerians fled to France as they were French citizens. Those from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fled to wherever they could find refugee.

The French and their colonial ally survivors of Dien Bien Phu saw the battle as a defining Moment in their lives. . “They responded with that terrible cry of pain which pretends to free a man from his sworn duty, and promises such chaos to come: ‘Nous sommes trahis!’-‘We are betrayed.’

The effects of the wars in French Indochina, Algeria and Vietnam on the French military establishment were long lasting and often tragic. The acceptance of torture as a means to an end sullied even the hardest French officers. Men like Galula and Marcel Bigeard refused to countenance it, while others like General Paul Aussaresses never recanted.

One of the most heart rending parts of the Dien Bien Phu story for me is that of Easter 1954 which fell just prior to the end for the French:

“In all Christendom, in Hanoi Cathedral as in the churches of Europe the first hallelujahs were being sung. At Dienbeinphu, where the men went to confession and communion in little groups, Chaplain Trinquant, who was celebrating Mass in a shelter near the hospital, uttered that cry of liturgical joy with a heart steeped in sadness; it was not victory that was approaching but death.” A battalion commander went to another priest and told him “we are heading toward disaster.” (The Battle of Dienbeinphu, Jules Roy, Carroll and Graf Publishers, New York, 1984 p.239)

Like many American veterans of Vietnam, many of the survivors of Dien Bien Phu made peace and reconciled with the Vietnamese soldiers who opposed them. While many still regretted losing they respected their Vietnamese opponents and questioned the leadership of their country and army. Colonel Jacques Allaire, who served as a lieutenant in a battalion under the command of Major Marcel Bigeard reflected on his thoughts to a Vietnamese correspondent in 2014:

“I am now 92 years old and not a single day has gone by since the Dien Bien Phu loss that I haven’t wondered to myself about why the French army lost…Victory was impossible and too far away from us. The aircrafts were not able to give us relief. The French Government changed 19 times in nine years and that messed everything up. General Navarre did not know anything about the battlefield in Vietnam. After the Na San battle, the French commanders thought they could win and decided to attack at Dien Bien Phu, but they were wrong. It was Vietnamese soldiers who owned the hills, because it was their country… I respect my own enemies, who fought hard for national independence…Vietnam Minh soldiers were true soldiers with the will, courage and morality…” 

As a veteran of Iraq whose father served in Vietnam I feel an almost a spiritual link to our American and French brothers in arms who fought at Dien Bien Phu, the Street Without Joy, Algiers and places like Khe Sanh, Hue City, the Ia Drang and the Mekong. When it comes to this time of year I always have a sense of melancholy and dread as I think of the unlearned lessons and future sacrifices that we may be asked to make, and not just military when it comes to the novel Coronavirus Pandemic. 

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Legionairs on the Street Without Joy

The lessons of the French at Dien Bien Phu and in Indochina were not learned by the United States as it entered Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor were the lessons of The French Algeria. It was an arrogance for which Americans paid dearly. I do not think that many in our political, media and pundits or military have entirely learned or that we in the military have completely shaken ourselves. We lost 54,000 dead in Vietnam, nearly 4500 in Iraq and so far over 2400 in Afghanistan, and 20,000 wounded which does not count many of the PTSD or TBI cases. Add the casualties suffered by our NATO allies the number of allied dead is now over 3500. Some 36,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and Police officers have been killed. Afghan civilian deaths are estimated between 100,000 and 400,000, not counting the wounded or those killed in Pakistan. In January 2018 the Pentagon classified data on Afghan military, police, and civilian casualties.

The Afghan debacle has spanned three Presidential administrations, so there accountability for it must be shared between Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, their administrations, the military high command, the Congress, and the civilian population of the United States which remained for the most part in a state of peace, despite a few inconveniences in domestic and international air travel. President Trump has shifted gears from the time he was a candidate when he pronounced the war “lost” to when addressed it as President on August 21st 2017. In his speech at fort Myer Virginia he said:

“When I became President, I was given a bad and very complex hand, but I fully knew what I was getting into:  big and intricate problems.  But, one way or another, these problems will be solved — I’m a problem solver — and, in the end, we will win.” 

But he also said:

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen…” 

There are those even as we have been at war for almost 19 years in Afghanistan who advocate even more interventions in places that there is no good potential outcome, only variations on bad outcomes.  I do not know how the President who calls himself a “Problem solver” or ”Wartime President” who will define winning, in war, or in the midst of a pandemic which has killed more Americans than were lost in combat in every military operation since the 1958 Lebanon Intervention. Bur now, in 2020, how many more American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen will need die  for a “victory” that we cannot even define? Likewise, how many Americans will have to die from a virus because their President and many other leaders minimize its potential for mass death, social and economic disruption, and division?

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French Navy F-8 Bearcat at Dien Bien Phu

Like the French our troops who returned from Vietnam were forgotten.The U.S. Army left Vietnam and returned to a country deeply divided by the war. Vietnam veterans remained ostracized by the society until the 1980s. As Lieutenant General Harold Moore  who commanded the battalion at the Ia Drang immortalized in the film We Were Soldiers recounted “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publicly questioned.”

I think that will be the case for those of us who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria. Americans love to say they support the troops and are overwhelmingly polite and even kind when they encounter veterans. But that being said even as they do that they don’t are ignorant about our campaigns, battles, and sacrifices; and even worse fail to hold the government regardless of administration accountable for sending American troops into wars that they cannot win. That being said the Trump administration is talking up and ramping up for a possible showdown with Iran.

I guess that is why I identify so much with the men of Dien Bien Phu. The survivors of that battle are now in their nineties and dissolved their Veterans of Dien Bien Phu association in 2014 due to the difficulties most had in traveling.

For those interested in the French campaign in Indochina it has much to teach us. Good books on the subject include The Last Valley by Martin Windrow, Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall; The Battle of Dien Bien Phu by Jules Roy; and The Battle of Dien Bien Phu – The Battle America Forgot by Howard Simpson. For a history of the whole campaign, read Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. A novel that has some really good insights into the battle and the French Paras and Legionnaires who fought in Indochina and Algeria is Jean Larteguy’s  The Centurions. 

I always find Fall’s work poignant.  The French journalist served as a member of the French Resistance in the Second World War and soldier later and then became a journalist covering the Nuremberg Trials and both the French and American wars in Vietnam. He was killed on February 21st 1967 near Hue by what was then known as a “booby-trap” and what would now be called an IED while covering a platoon of U.S. Marines.

Sadly, most of the leaders in the Trump Administration, Congress, business, the greater civil population, and even some in the military ignore about COVID 19. The battle is not a conventional war. It is a battle against an unseen enemy that is not fighting a conventional war. We haven’t even understood how to wage such a war over the long term, much less how to deal with a non ideological, non religious, or non nationalistic enemy, such as a virus during a pandemic.

Now humanity is waging an asymmetrical conflict between an inhuman virus which adapts, infects, and kills without thinking, while human beings are divided between their desire to preserve life and those who do not care how many people die so long as their way of life is preserved, in the way that they knew it. However, the keys to defeating the virus, are similar to counterinsurgency doctrine. The Virus has to be identified, its victims quarantined, their contacts tracked, effective treatments developed, especially a vaccine that will protect people, and allow the resumption of normal life.

This isn’t rocket science. Until virologists and epidemiologists can develop effective vaccines and medicines to alleviate and mitigate the worst symptoms, governments and citizens must be willing to do practice non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) such as social distancing and wearing face masks, which are proven by history and science to slow rates of  infection and death, whether compliance is voluntary or mandated by criminal law. No person has the right to prioritize their personal freedoms over the lives of others. This is part of the social contract developed in the earliest of human civilizations, and in the teachings of Jesus the Christ who told his disciples This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

If the Trump Administration choses to ignore science and history regarding the COVID 19 pandemic, it will experience the same humiliation that France encountered in Indochina and Algeria, as well as the American experience in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. If it does so for purely economic reasons, being willing to sacrifice people for comics and profits, than its immorality and vice is too great to reconcile with any human understanding of the sacred value of all human life.

I do pray that we will learn the lessons before we enter yet another hell somewhere else, but then we already have doe so, since COVID 19 has already claimed as many American lives as were lost in every conflict since the 1958 intervention in Lebanon and every war, conflict, incident, or operation since.

Whether you understand it or not, the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu isn’t something that we cannot learn from today. One can never underestimate one’s enemy, or overestimate their ability to defeat it. Nor can they ignore the advice of historians, scientists, sociologists, physicians, and military leaders. Sadly, it seems to me that Donald Trump and his Administration and followers are more than willing to follow in the footsteps of all who in their interest willing to sacrifice the lives of the innocent, be they soldiers, Medical personnel, civilians, or others deemed life unworthy of life. So why not lead more people to death in order to maintain power and profits.

I won’t say anything else tonight, as Imam tired but anxious about the results of a COVID 19 test that Judy and I took late Monday afternoon as a result of a possible exposure Judy might have had last Friday. While I do not think that either of us will test positive, the current situation where so many Americans do not seem to give a damn about the lives of others in the midst of a highly infectious and deadly pandemic are now personal. As are the histories of those who promote their stupidity:  leaders who dodged the draft, or never served at all, either on the front lines of combat or in the battle against infectious diseases decide that human lives are worth less than short term profits of their corporations or economic interests.

I am not a man of violence, but I agree with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote: “If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Likewise I believe like General Ludwig Beck who died in the attempt to kill Hitler and seize control of Germany from the Nazi regime that those entrusted with high office must live up to it. Beck said:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.” 

For me the testimony of both men is relevant today.

How can I be silent and retain any sense of morality today? My heart goes out to all the French, and their Colonials, and Foreign Legion Troops who died for an awful cause in Indochina, including those who fought for South Vietnam and lost everything by doing so, as well as the Americans sent their to prop up a regime that had little popular support, and was based on power religious and economic elites more than its own people.

Now we are faced with a pandemic that kills without discrimination. A pandemic that kills without remorse because it is not human, and which adepts itself to killing  more people. This is especially true when human beings and their governments ignore or willingly break the basics of non pharmaceutical interventions, such as social distancing and face masks because they value their personal convenience over the life of others.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fighting for the Lives of Others Against those that Value Money over People in a Pandemic

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today, or yesterday as it is now was a difficult day. I didn’t sleep well because of reading about an ER physician who served on the frontline against COVID 19, contracted and recovered from the virus, killed herself. She was the head of an ER Department in the Presbyterian Health Care system in New York. Reading about her death kept me awake thinking about all the other physicians, nurses, other hospital personnel and first responders are seeing things that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. They will be suffering from severe and chronic PTSD, as well as Moral Injury, and many, like Dr. Lorna Breen will end their lives by their own hand. They will commit suicide.

My lack of sleep left me listless and tired for much of the day, even when dealing with serious counseling cases, but thankfully I was able to listen well enough to ensure that I was alert enough to stay focused and remain with these people even though my mind kept trying to drift and my body wanted to simply pass out. What was harder was to go back to my email and to input analytic data on my activity to keep up with what the Navy wants; to quantify the unquantifiable aspects of what Chaplains, or therapists do when they care for others. I feel asleep more than once doing that. I should have got off my ass and the damned analytic tool and gone out and walked around the shipyard and interacted with people. So now, I still am awake, unable to go to sleep.

I don’t get on social media for the most part until after we have dinner. Over the past few days I have had a man who I served with server all years ago doing all he could to attack and discredit me on Facebook. I didn’t break total contact, but I had to block him from seeing my posts. His agenda was not about public health or trying to contain the rates of infection and number of deaths, than it was to defend political positions that put more value on profit than human beings. His attacks on my reliance on history, data, science, and the fact that I cannot put a monetary value on the lives of the people most likely to be infected or die from COVID-19.  I have used the term of the proponents of Euthanasia and the Nazi Regime: “Life Unworthy of Life,” to describe that belief currently.

Then out of the blue a former classmate of mine at the Joint Forces Staff College came after me because I made a sarcasm laced comment about a lady in North Carolina who led a Facebook group devoted to opposing that state’s social distancing and stay at home regulations, who over the weekend announced that she had tested positive for the virus but would still oppose those public health rules. My comment on the article stated that I found it ironic, but that I would find it more ironic if Darwin won and she died. I didn’t mean that I wanted to see her die, it just meant that I saw the irony in her being infected. For that I was condemned. The same was true for my comments about Vice President Mike Pence when he visited the Mayo Clinic without observing their PPE requirements while visiting patients. I criticized him for ignoring hospital policy and endangering the lives of imuunocomprized patients. In both cases I was accused of not representing the grace of God. The conversation continued for more time that I wanted to give it. However, God’s grace and mercy also have to tempered by justice.

When dealing with such people I have to remember the words of Sophie Scholl:

The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.

Sadly, both men used their fealty to President Trump to completely misrepresent what I said and try to twist my arguments by for all intents and purposes calling me a hypocrite motivated by politics. But truthfully I hold national leaders regardless of their political, religious, or ideological standards to the same standards when it comes to matters of public safety and public health. I insist that they set a personal example, and do all they can to protect life. Those who study, those who read, and those who take the time to think about the human, social, and economic effects of a pandemic, including Presidents Bush and Obama, who are both hated by Trump Cultists, are condemned.

I will put my life on the line for others, and even sacrifice things that give me pleasure to protect the lives of others. However, that is not the case with the cult. The dead, who now in under three months exceed our military deaths in over 10 years of the Vietnam War, and over a million infections, which total more than a quarter of all the deaths from COVID 19 worldwide and over a third of total infections  are inexcusable, especially because Trump and his Administration did all they could to deny, deflect, and blame others for the virus while they take no blame at all. As the President has said multiple times “I take no responsibility…” 

But since I was a young Army Officer I have insisted on higher standards of conduct from leaders. Even as a young officer I have had no problem confronting authorities who shirked responsibility or blame others for their policy or moral failures regardless of their party. That has been a key part of my identity since I was first commissioned in 1983. Since them I have been criticized and condemned for my candor and honesty. After Iraq I don’t fear death. In fact those who condemn me today, really do not know me. Otherwise they would know that my basic instinct to to chose fight over flight, and march to the sound of the guns, regardless of personal consequence. I would rather die with honor knowing my actions have saved lives than expose others to possible death. Jesus said: No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Truthfully, that is 180 degrees opposite of what Trump’s supposedly Christian Cult advocates. For them the whole thing is about their personal loyalty to a serial liar and narcissistic sociopath who has no regard for the Constitution, the institutions, and laws of our country than he has for the lives of its citizens, so long as they get to be power players. My friends, that is not the Gospel, it is the heresy of anti-Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Sadly, the cultish enablers of Trump have forgotten the responsibility that comes with discipleship. I cannot do that. I have seen too much needless death in peace from pandemics, and in war from illegal and irresponsible actions, to to protest that the real complaining party the bar of justice is civilization itself. No country can survive a philosophy that devalues human life in a life and death crisis for the bottom line of the economy, as well as  personal and corporate profit that only sentences the least, the lost, and the lonely to death, so we can go back to enjoying the good times of uninhibited gratuitousness and great. Who cares if the restaurant worker, or grocery clerk making a subsistence living dies because we open up the economy without adequate personnel protective equipment, adequate health insurance, or having effective drugs to save lives, or a vaccine to parent infection in place, even as less than 2% of the total population has been tested? Honestly, I don’t see any of the government or church leaders advocating for the immediate opening of the economy and tossing aside the only means to prevent further mass death, taking a stand against a suicidal policy, that will end up killing too many more and damn our country forever.

Yes, the true complainant at the bar of justice itself is humanity and civilization itself, and the accused are those who would sacrifice all for their financial bottom line, or position of political power.

As long as I have breath I will fight against that kind of regime. To paraphrase General Henning von Tresckow, a leading figure in the attempt to overthrow Hitler: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Trump’s America.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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PTSD, Madness; to Perchance to Dream and Yet Live: Iraq Twelve Years Later

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier these words:

“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” 

I am exhausted tonight and I will be going to bed early for me. Hopefully I will get some restful sleep. I will be posting this article to post shortly after midnight by which time I hope not only to be in bed but asleep.

I have suffered a week of violent nightmares taking me back to my worst fears when I was serving in the badlands of Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007 and 2008 supporting U.S. Advisors to Iraqi Army, Border Forces, Police, Highway Patrol, and Provincial Reconstruction teams. I rolled out of bed in a nightmare and cut my arm, and I woke up screaming and reaching for the pistol of an Iraqi insurgent who was about to shoot me, scaring the absolute shit out of our oldest Papillon dog Minnie, whose terrified Yelp woke me up.

I do not often write about it because I have been doing better, but I suffer from severe and chronic PTSD related to my experiences at war. The images are seared into my brain and sometimes the memories, and my deepest fears from my time there as an unarmed Chaplain working for the most part with very small groups of Americans and our Iraqis far away from the help of the big battalions if we got into serious trouble. I have written about those experiences and my struggles after my return many times on this blog. Likewise, I have had my story told on the front pages of the Jacksonville Daily News and the Washington Times. A video of my story is on the Department of Defense Real Warriors Campaign website, and is a large part of a chapter of Pulitzer Prize winning War Correspondent David Wood’s book  What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of America’s Longest Wars.  

Since Iraq, my nightmares are very vivid and often involve much physical acting out. The physical acting out is unusual and I have actually injured myself badly enough to require trips to the emergency room after crashing hard throwing myself out of bed combatting imaginary enemies. Likewise, other have been violent and physical enough to wake Judy up.

This is nothing new. In another nightmare a year or so ago I was being attacked by an Iraqi insurgent. Our advisor team had been attacked as we were stopped in the dark to determine if an Improvised Explosive Device had been laid in the road in front of us. This was just a few miles from the Iraq-Syrian border between Al Qaim and COP South, the base of the advisor team which was working with the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Brigade of the Iraqi 7th Division.

The part about being stopped in the desert in the dark while examining a potential IED actually happened. The attack did not happen but at the time I fully expected something like it to happen. We were sitting ducks on a two lane highway in the middle of the desert. But the attack never happened and we continued to COP South, which would become a part of many of my future missions.

But in my nightmare it happened and as the fighting devolved into close quarters hand to hand combat I found myself grappling an insurgent who was attacking me with a large knife. I managed to roll on top of him and knock the knife from his hand when I was awakened. I was on top of Judy and she was afraid that I was going to strangle her. My hands had not gotten to her throat but she woke me and told me what had happen. I dropped back to my side of the bed in a cold sweat. I could not believe what had happened and that terrifies me. I have set up an appointment prior to my regularly scheduled one with my shrink to talk about this.

Since I my day had been quite good and I have been much more relaxed at work since putting in my retirement papers the event came as a huge surprise. In trying to figure out what triggered it I was at loss until I remembered that I had had dinner last night with a retired Navy EOD Captain who had been my Chief Staff Officer at EOD Group Two and running partner before I went to Iraq. He was sent there not long after me and we met at Camp Victory in Baghdad not long before I left Iraq on the way to Kuwait and home in 2008. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner last night and we did talk about all manner of things including our time in Iraq and those men that we had served alongside.

I saw my sleep doctor yesterday regarding my latest sleep study. Without my sleep Medical Tinos I did not enter in to REM sleep, or dream sleep. In addition to prescribing me a different CPAP machine and increasing the pressure , he referring me to a neurologist colleague of his in the sleep clinic. Honestly, I don’t know what god it will do, but I hope that he can find some kind of answer.

But trying to explain my trying to explain nightmares and night terrors is is not really helpful, they are now part of who I am. I think that Stephen King said it best:

“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” 

Yes,  I can still try to logically deduce my nightmares and night terrors, but the poetry of fear as Stephen King so rightly calls it cannot be fully explained. For those of us who deal with the memories of combat, of having been shot at and have seen the human cost of war, the dead, the wounded, the destruction, and the aftermath of war, they are all too real and they never completely leave us.

Christmas on the Syrian border

Over eleven years after I returned from Iraq I still find that much of me is still there. In fact, deep down I miss Iraq and the Iraqis that I was honored to know and to serve alongside and I still pray for them and for their future. Maybe someday I will get back. I would love that.

For all that remains with me about Iraq, I left a good part of me there, with my advisors and Iraqis. It was the best of times, and the worst of times, but it is a major part of who I am now, and why I want to continue to live.

So until tomorrow, Inshallah, إن شاء الله

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq, middle east, Military, ministry, News and current events, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing: Thoughts on Landing in Iraq 12 Years Later it is hard

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

it is hard to believe that about this time a dozen years ago that I was landing in Iraq, for a tour of duty with American advisers to Iraqi Army and security forces in Al Anbar Province. To quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was a tour of duty that would change me forever, I could have stayed there indefinitely, but my tour was limited to seven months. Nonetheless, I left a lot of me in Iraq, and brought a lot back.

It was an amazing tour of duty, full of danger every day, full of travel from the Syrian border to Fallujah and all places in between. I met many friends there, Americans and Iraqis alike. I returned with a severe case of PTSD as well as moral and spiritual injuries that have afflicted me since. I really understand T. E. Lawrence, better known by most as Lawrence Of Arabia who wrote:

“We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.”

You see I went to war as a volunteer. I was eager to go, and as I said I would have remained longer. When I left I felt like I was abandoning my Americans and Iraqis. When I left, the Navy Chaplain who followed the one I served under deferred on having my replacement and in a sense abandoning those Americans and Iraqis that I was the only Chaplain serving. My replacement was sent to an Army team in Mosul.

I left Iraq questioning everything that I had went there believing: about the justness of the war, about my country’s leadership, the political party I had been a part of for three decades, and my faith as a Christian.

I have written much about my experience in Iraq and how even today I have a deep regard for the Iraqi people and their hopes for a better future. However, I wonder if what Lawrence wrote will be true:

“We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” 

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In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq and made short work of that country’s military. Many Iraqis of all creeds looked upon the US and coalition forces as liberators but within a few months the illusion was over. Within weeks of the overthrow of Saddam, the US military personnel and leaders who were working with Iraqi officials, both military and civilian to get the country back on its feet were replaced by the Bush administration.

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In their place a new entity, the Coalition Provisional Authority was created and staffed. The first administrator of the entity was retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner. He had much experience in Iraq but was sacked quickly by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for not conducting an immediate purge of members of the Baathist Party from key positions in the civil service or security forces, or implementing the agenda of the administration.

After Garner’s dismissal the CPA was led by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, a man who had no experience in the Arab world, much less in Iraq. Bremer and his staff, most of who had little experience or knowledge of the country created conditions that directly led the the Iraq insurgency, the sacrifice of thousands of American and allied lives and the loss of friendship of the Iraqi people. They also gave a a bloodless strategic victory to Iraq’s traditional enemy and oppressor Iran, which became a dominant regional power without having to worry about their traditional Arab nemesis.

It was as if Bremer, the leaders of the Bush administration and their neoconservative allies knew nothing of history. If they did they decided to ignore it. Whether it was ignorance of history, or a wanton disregard for it, and the country we invaded it was immoral, unethical and probably criminal.

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T.E. Lawrence wrote of the British incursion into Turkish Mesopotamia in 1915, managed by the British Indian Office:

“By brute force it marched then into Basra. The enemy troops in Irak were nearly all Arabs in the unenviable predicament of having to fight on behalf of their secular oppressors against a people long envisaged as liberators, but who obstinately refused to play the part.”

The actions of the CPA destroyed the plans pragmatists in the Pentagon and State Department to incorporate the existing civil service, police and military forces in the newly free Iraq.  Instead Bremer dissolved the Iraqi military, police and civil service within days of his arrival. Since the military invasion had been accomplished with minimal forces most Iraqi weapon sites, arsenals and bases were looted once their Iraqi guardians were banished and left their posts. The embryonic insurgency was thus provided by Bremer a full arsenal of weapons to use against American forces; many of whom were now mobilized Reservists and National Guardsmen that were neither trained or equipped to fight an insurgency or in urban areas.

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The reaction of the Iraqi Arabs to US occupation should have been anticipated. Lawrence wrote in 1920 a letter that could have easily been written in 2004:

“It is not astonishing that their patience has broken down after two years. The Government we have set up is English in fashion, and is conducted in the English language. So it has 450 British executive officers running it, and not a single responsible Mesopotamian. In Turkish days 70 per cent of the executive civil service was local. Our 80,000 troops there are occupied in police duties, not in guarding the frontiers. They are holding down the people.”

The actions of Bremer’s incompetent leadership team led to a tragic insurgency that need not have taken place. The now unnumbered US forces had to fight an insurgency while attempting to re-create an army, security forces and civil service from the wreckage created by Bremer’s mistakes; as well as its own often heavy handed tactics in the months following the invasion.

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Nearly 4500 US troops would die and over 30,000 more wounded in the campaign. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or died of disease during the war.  Lawrence wrote about the British administration of Iraq words that could well have been written about Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority:

“Meanwhile, our unfortunate troops, Indian and British, under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Bagdad.”

It took dramatic efforts in blood and treasure to restore the some modicum of security in Iraq, something that was only accomplished when the Sunni tribes of Anbar Province turned against the Al Qaeda backed foreign fighters. The surge under the command of General David Petreus achieved the desired result. It gave the Iraqis a chance to stabilize their government and increase their own security forces.

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Unfortunately many of those that remained in power of the Shia sect refused to share power in meaningful ways with Iraq’s Sunni and Kurds leading to a political crisis. The US military mission ended in December 2011 and since then Iraq security forces and civil authorities, often divided by tribal or sectarian loyalties have struggled to maintain order. The result is that by 2013 that Iraq was again heading toward the abyss of civil war. Sunni protestors in Anbar and other provinces conducted frequent protests, sectarian violence spread, and an Al Qaeda affiliated group gained control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. It took years for the Iraqis aided by the Kurds, and a renewed U.S. military presence to restore a precarious stability in Iraq, something that it seems the Trump administration is trying to destroy in its economic and political war against Iran. To me that seems like the President is pissing on the graves of every American and Iraqi who died supporting that operation, and I hate him for that. I am still loyal to my oath and the Constitution but I loathe him and have no respect for a man who used every opportunity he could to not serve in Vietnam and consistently has disrespected Vietnam veterans and other military personnel. He loves military technology, but he shows no respect for the soldier.

Syria

To the west in Syria a brutal civil war has been going on for  years. Like Iraq it pits Sunni against Shia, as well as Kurd and foreign fighters from a score of nations, some fighting as part of a Free Syria movement, others as part of the Al Qaeda coalition and others beside Syria’s government.

In 1920 Lawrence wrote of the British intervention and occupation of Iraq:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

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His words have a sadly familiar tone. The US invasion of Iraq did have a different outcome than we imagined. The Arab Spring erupted and the consequences of it will be far reaching and effect much of the Middle East and the world. The internal conflicts in Iraq and Syria threaten every country that borders them, and the instability has the potential of bringing on an regional war.

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That being said, many if not most Arabs in all of these lands simply desire to live in peace and enjoy some amount of freedom for themselves and future for their children. One has to remember that the freedom for which many are striving, and dying is for them, not for the United States or any other power.

Lawrence’s words and wisdom concerning the Arabs who rebelled against the Turkish Ottoman Empire are as true today as when he wrote them after the war:

“The Arabs rebelled against the Turks during the war not because the Turk Government was notably bad, but because they wanted independence. They did not risk their lives in battle to change masters, to become British subjects or French citizens, but to win a show of their own.”

That is the case in many Arab countries today. One can only hope that in those countries as well as in Afghanistan where our troops are embroiled in a war that cannot end well, that somehow peace will come. I do hope that we will do better than we have over the past dozen years of conflict, or than the British or French did almost 100 years ago, but under the present administration I doubt it.

I have recovered much since my tour, but there are days when I feel as Lawrence did not long before his death, when he wrote a friend:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

 

I fully understand, and in the final year of my active service, I must speak the truth, even when it is uncomfortable for me and others.

As for my Iraqi friends who still remain in danger, I say Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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PTSD and Combat Trauma: Gouverneur Warren, a Hero Betrayed

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Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another article from one of my yet unpublished boos on the Battle of Gettysburg. Hopefully my agent will find a home for it. That being said the men who fought that battle were very little different from the men and women that serve in our armed forces today. I find a particular affinity with this man, General Gouverneur Warren.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Throughout this study we have been looking at how leaders at various levels in conduct of campaigns as well as battles make decisions. Likewise we examine the lives and character of those leaders as it applies to their actions at critical points of a battle. In this chapter we will examine three officers whose lives, character and actions at Gettysburg, specifically at Little Round Top exemplify two of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Desired Leader Attributes, “to anticipate and adapt to surprise and uncertainty” and the principle of Mission Command, to “operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding.” It is from those perspectives that we will look at this part of the battle, but we would be amiss if we did not address the nearly mythical status to which this action has risen.

The actions of three men at the Battle of Little Round Top; Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren, the Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, Colonel Strong Vincent, commanding Third Brigade, First Division, V Corps and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment of Vincent’s brigade are very important to the outcome of the battle, but also for what they teach us about leadership and the profession of arms. This chapter focuses on Warren, in particular with his work with the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, George Meade and his actions to secure Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, the next will deal with Chamberlain and Vincent.

The battle at Little Round Top is an iconic part of American History and in particular for the Army, a key element of how leadership has been studied. It has achieved nearly mythical status due to the actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain which have been told many times in history, fiction and in film, particularly Michael Shaara’s classic historical novel The Killer Angels and its film adaptation Gettysburg. While these accounts are certainly inspiring and allow us to experience the emotion and near spiritual quality of what Chamberlain writes, there is much more to learn.

That near spiritual quality and mythic status that we accord Gettysburg is important, for in large part it is why we come to the battlefield, and why we study. Chamberlain said it well many years after Gettysburg at the dedication of the Maine Monuments:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [1]

So as we endeavor to look at the actions of these leaders on that fateful day it is important to recognize that we cannot totally separate those actions that helped decide the battle from the mythos that surrounds the story. [2] Likewise, it important to acknowledge that we cannot separate their character and the totality of military leaders lives from their actions on a particular battlefield. Unlike Chamberlain Warren does not engender myth, and that is why he is often overlooked by many casual students and observers of the Battle of Gettysburg.

For the purposes of this study it is important to note that Warren was not a commander during this action, he was, like most senior officers today, a staff officer. Many times students of military history and theory are inclined to dismiss the contributions of staff officers because they do not have the overall responsibility of a battle, or the glamour of the limelight of the commanders that they serve under. However, for military professionals, especially those serving on senior staffs who prepare campaign plans, contingency plans and crisis plans the study of officers like Warren is essential.

The Federal Army at Gettysburg, like its Confederate opponent had a wide variety of officers serving in its ranks. Many of its senior officers were graduates of West Point. Many had served together in Mexico and in the various campaigns against Native American tribes. Those who stayed in the Army during the long “peace” between the Mexican War and the outbreak of the Civil War endured the monotony, boredom and often miserable conditions of isolated army posts, long family separations, as well as low pay, slow promotion and often low social status.[3] In light of such conditions, many resigned their commissions to undertake various professional, business or academic pursuits; in fact Samuel Huntington noted that in the years before the Civil War that “West Point produced more railroad presidents than generals.” [4] However, on the outbreak of the war returned to service whether in the service of the Union, or the Confederate States.

When the war began the Army underwent a massive expansion, which it met through and the call of up militia and raising new units from the various states. In the expansion many officers were appointed who had no prior military service, or if they did it was performed years or even decades before the war. Some of these men were simply patriots who rallied to the flag, others due to a sense of righteousness about their cause, while others were political opportunists or appointees. In the north this was a particular problem as “professional officers were pushed aside and passed over in the Union, the higher commissions going, in the first stages of the war at least to officers called back into service or directly appointed from civilian life, many of them “political” appointees.” [5]

At times the lack of experience, training and sometimes the poor character of these men was tragic. However, many of these men performed as well or better than some of their regular army counterparts at various levels of command. At the same time a good number of Regular Army officers were allowed to assist states in the formation and training of these new units, one of whom was Gouverneur Warren. Gettysburg would provide opportunity for the best and worst of all of these types of officers to succeed or fail. In this chapter we will look at one of the regular officers and two of the volunteer whose lives intersected on July 2nd 1863.

Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren was typical of the many professional officers of the old army. An 1850 graduate of West Point, Warren was a bright student who had absorbed the teachings of his professor, Dennis Hart Mahan as the core of his own military thought, both in his senior year in college and through reinforcement as a faculty member. [6] Warren was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant and because of his high standing in his class was assigned to Corps of Topographical Engineers. He spent his first seven years in a number of assignments which took him throughout much of the country.

Warren’s work involved exploring and mapping for various enterprises including the project to help tame the Mississippi River, and the exploration of the Great Plains and Black Hills where he developed a sympathy for the various Sioux tribes he encountered noting on completion of his mission in 1858, writing that He had never heard a Sioux chief express an opinion in regard to what was due them in which I do not concur and that many of them view the extinction of their race as an inevitable result of the operation of present causes, and do so with all the feelings of despair with which we should contemplate the extinction of our nationality. [7] Following his years in the west he returned as faculty to West Point where he as an Assistant Professor, shared mathematics instructional duties with Oliver O. Howard and resumed his relationship with his former professor Mahan. [8]

On the outbreak of war Warren was granted leave from his duties at West Point to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers in the 5th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as Duryee’s Zouaves. Where Duryee was appointed as a Brigadier General, Warren became its Colonel, serving with it during the Peninsula campaign where he was eventually given command of a provisional brigade and promoted to Brigadier General, serving as a Brigade Commander in at Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.

At Chancellorsville he was pulled from his brigade duties by Hooker who employed him with good effect to assist his engineering staff, first with mapping and then building the fortifications that stopped the ferocious Confederate storm on the second day of battle. [9] In less than 48 hours Warren’s troops threw up five miles of the most formidable entrenchments yet constructed under battlefield conditions. [10] Edward Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery officer noted that when the Confederates came upon the fortifications after Hooker’s withdraw that “they were amazed at the strength and completeness of the enemys fortifications. [11] Following the battle Warren was appointed as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac on May 12th 1863 by Hooker. When Hooker was relieved of command and was replaced by Meade on June 28th 1863, he was kept in that position by his fellow engineer Meade rather than being promoted to a division or being assigned as Meade’s Chief of Staff. As this turned out it was a wise choice.

Warren along with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill on the night of July 1st. As Meade organized his defenses he not only depended on his advice about the ground, but “consulted him constantly at headquarters or sent him off on matters of highest importance.” [12] Meade respected Warren and had offered Warren the chance to serve as his Chief of Staff, a position that Warren, like Seth Williams, the Adjutant General declined that offer indicating that he had too much work in their departments to take on the burdens of a new job. [13] Lee appreciated Warren’s calm, absorbed, and earnest manner, his professional skill and sound judgment.[14] These qualities would serve both men and the army well on July 2nd.

When Sickles moved III Corps forward during the afternoon without permission moved his Corps forming a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard leaving the southern flank in the air, Meade was aghast. Warren who from his reconnaissance of the previous day and the morning knew the position better than anyone recognized that something was badly awry on SicklesThird Corps front  matters there were not all straight. [15] He had sent an officer to discover to investigate Sickles’ front and that officer reported that the section of Cemetery Ridge assigned to III Corps was not occupied.[16]

Meade and Warren discussed the situation and realized that III Corps “could hardly be said to be in position” [17] and knowing VI Corps was now close at hand order V Corps, at the time his only reserve into the position vacated by Sickles. They went forward and seeing the empty spaces Warren told Meade “here is where our line should be” to which Meade replied: “It’s too late now.” [18] Warren, whose familiarity with the whole of the battlefield gave him concern about Sickles’ corps dispositions suggest that Meade send him to the Federal left, “to examine the condition of affairs.” [19]

Meade concurred with his Engineer and in dispatching him he also gave Warren the authority to take charge as needed saying “I wish you would ride over there and if anything serious is going on, attend to it.” [20] Again Meade’s choice of Warren for the task demonstrated the trust that is essential in command. The two officers worked together seamlessly and as Coddington described their relationship that day: “Meade chose him to act as his alter ego in crucial moments of the battle, and Warren rendered services for which Meade and the country were to be eternally grateful.” [21]Warren would not see Meade again “until the attack had spent its force.” [22]

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Hunt noted that “The duty could not have been in better hands.” [23]When Warren arrived on Little Round Top he found it unoccupied save for a few signal corps soldiers. Warren immediately recognized the tactical value of Little Round Top and noted that it was “the key of the whole position.” [24]Warren saw that the Confederates were massing not more than a mile away and that there were no troops on the hill to stop them. He believed that an area “of woods on the near side of the Emmitsburg Road as “an excellent place for the enemy to form out of sight” [25] which was exactly what Major General John Bell Hood’s division was doing, as Henry Hunt noted “The enemy at the time lay concealed, awaiting signal for the assault…” [26] To test his suspicions Warren sent a messenger to Captain James Smith’s 4th New York artillery battery on Devil’s Den to fire a single shot into the woods. Warren described the situation:

“As the shot went whistling through the air the sound of it reached the enemy’s troops and caused every one to look in the direction of it. This motion revealed to me the glistening gun-barrels and bayonets of the enemy’s line of battle, already formed and far outflanking the position of any of our troops; so that the line of his advance from the right to Little Round Top was unopposed. I have been particular in telling this, as the discovery was intensely thrilling to my feelings, and almost appalling.” [27]

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Upon confirming his fears Warren resorted to ruse and action. He order the “signalmen to keep up their wigwag activity, simply as a pretense of alertness, whether they had any real signals to transmit or not…”[28] He also sent messengers to Meade, Sickles and Sykes, the commander of V Corps asking Meade to “Send at least a division to me” [29] instructing the messenger, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie to tell Meade “that we would at once have to occupy that place very strongly.” [30] Sickles refused on account of how badly stretched his lines were, however George Sykes of V Corps responded sending Captain William Jay to find Barnes commander of his 1st Division. The messenger could not find Barnes, but instead came across the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent knew that Barnes was self-medicating his “pre-battle anxieties out of a black commissary quart bottle” and was already “hollow from skull to boots” and demanded “What are your orders? Give me your orders.” [31] Upon learning that Sykes wanted a brigade to proceed to Little Round Top Vincent responded immediately to take the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission. Vincent told Sykes messenger “I will take the responsibility myself of taking my brigade there.” [32]

Meade’s choice of Warren was demonstrated in how Warren continued to act with alacrity and decisiveness throughout the afternoon. “As the Union line began to crumble on Little Round Top, Warren, vested with the authority of Meade’s chief representative, emerged as the right man at the right place at the right time.” [33] Warren did not stop with sending messengers, but seeing the danger building he noted that the northwest face of the hill was still unoccupied and open to attack. Warren forgot “all about a general’s dignity” he “sprinted down the east slope of the hill like a rabbit.” [34] There he found Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s brigade which he had previously commanded. Since he did not see Weed, but he found Colonel Patrick O’Rorke of the 140th New York and ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [35] When O’Rorke said that Weed expected him to be following him Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [36] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following. Warren’s actions were fortuitous as the 140th New York and Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery of the 5th Artillery arrived at the crest just in time to repulse the advancing Confederates. In the fight the brigade would take fearful casualties and by the end of the battle, Weed, O’Rorke and Hazlett would all be dead, but with Vincent’s brigade they held on and saved the Union line.[37]

Warren continued to urge on the Federal troops despite being wounded, in the words of a reporter who observed him in “a most gallant and heroic manner, riding with utmost confidence over fields swept by the enemy’s fire, seemingly everywhere present, directing, aiding, and cheering the troops.” [38] Once he was assured that Little Round Top was secure he proceeded to rejoin Meade “near the center of the battlefield where another crisis was at hand.” [39]

Warren distinguished as a Corps commander until he ran afoul of the fiery General Phillip Sheridan in 1865. Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. The relief was brutal and ruined his career. Warren was a professional soldier and took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan who in their haste at Five Forks destroyed his career.

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineeringduty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. He wrote his wife while supervising a major bridge construction project over the Mississippi River in 1867: “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [40]

He sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but he died three months before the results were published. Embittered he directed that he be buried in civilian clothes and without military honors. His funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [41] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.” [42]

Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive for, and from a leadership perspective demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command“the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates. But his life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry wrote of Warren:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [43]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize. His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [44]

Warren

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. I think that this does a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war gives up something of themselves and sometimes even heroes like Gouverneur Warren are destroyed by the actions of institutions that they serve.

                                                        Notes

[1] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

[2] Note: My use of the terms myth, mythology or mythos should not be considered negative, and the use of the terms does not mean that there is not some degree of fact or truth in them. The definitions of the term mythos are important to understanding my use of the term here, first it denotes a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure of a story, and secondly a set of beliefs or assumptions about something. (See the Oxford American Dictionary.)

[3] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 pp.37-38.

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.199

[5] Ibid. Huntington. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations p.213

[6] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.6

[7] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.30

[8] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.33

[9] Sears, Stephen W. ChancellorsvilleHoughton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.372

[10] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.91

[11] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7007

[12] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.332

[13] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 pp.129-130

[14] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.332

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.262

[16] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.319

[17] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.319

[18] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[19] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.90

[20] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[21] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[22] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.260

[23] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p. 307

[24] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[25] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[26] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. p. 307

[27] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.206

[28] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.503

[29] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.261

[31] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[32] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.127

[33] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.395

[34] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the IncredibleStan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1957 p.214

[35] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[37] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren pp. 93-94

[38] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[39] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.396

[40] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.249

[41] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[42] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[43] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[44] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xi

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“They Remain Fresh and Open in the Heart” Moral Wounds, often Hidden but Never Healed

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Tombstone at the British Cemetery, Habbaniyah Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Stephen King wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”

I prefer physical pain and physical injury to moral, emotional, and spiritual injury. I agree with Alexander Dumas who wrote in the Count of Monte Cristo“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is how I feel over ten years after returning from Iraq in 2008. No matter how well I am doing there are times when things going on in the present fill me with terror and evoke the ghosts of my past. As much as I want to put my war and other wars in the past I see American political leaders, propagandists, and religious leaders doing all they can to bring about new wars abroad and divide us at home.

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I find this deeply unsettling and it causes great anxiety, especially when I try to sleep. On Saturday night I had terrible nightmares of war with superiors trying to force me to commit war crimes. Four times Judy tried to wake me as I screamed and fought and I couldn’t pull myself out of the dreams. Thankfully I did not end up throwing myself out of bed and causing injury as I have done before. Likewise the Papillons, including our youngest boy, Pierre, now know to move to a different part of the bed when I am so unsettled.

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

In my dreams I remember everything about the war like it was yesterday. The images are vivid: wounded Marines, a wounded Iraqi boy with his father, a rocket flying just a few feet above my head, taking small arms fire in Ramadi on the ground and aboard an Army helicopter which returned fire as we took off from Ramadi, destroyed cities and villages, destitute and terrified people, and refugees.

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But those dreams and nightmares blend reality with unreality, real places with imaginary places, places that I’ve been to but are not the same as they are in the real world and they frequently show up. You think that I would be used to them; but no matter how often I have them I never get used to them, and I can’t really explain them, I only try to survive them.

Of course now I am dealing with constant physical pain with my knees, hip, and ankles. This is something relatively new for me, but even so, I can deal with physical pain better than emotional or spiritual pain, and the nightmares and night terrors.

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Ramadi, January 2008

One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Anyway, I think that Reddington’s words are true. toward the end of next month I will be getting another sleep study, this one to try to figure out how to mitigate the physical violence in my dreams, even as I deal with constant physical pain. Who knows, maybe the physical pain will dull the emotional or spiritual pain that lies deep in my psyche and inhabits my dreams and nightmares?

But I guess that is just a rhetorical question.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Hero Betrayed: Gouverneur Warren, Little Round Top and Moral Injury

gkwarren

Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another article from one of my yet unpublished boos on the Battle of Gettysburg. Hopefully my agent will find a home for it. That being said the men who fought that battle were very little different from the men and women that serve in our armed forces today. I find a particular affinity with this man, Gouverneur Warren.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Throughout this study we have been looking at how leaders at various levels in conduct of campaigns as well as battles make decisions. Likewise we examine the lives and character of those leaders as it applies to their actions at critical points of a battle. In this chapter we will examine three officers whose lives, character and actions at Gettysburg, specifically at Little Round Top exemplify two of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Desired Leader Attributes, “to anticipate and adapt to surprise and uncertainty” and the principle of Mission Command, to “operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding.” It is from those perspectives that we will look at this part of the battle, but we would be amiss if we did not address the nearly mythical status to which this action has risen.

The actions of three men at the Battle of Little Round Top; Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren, the Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, Colonel Strong Vincent, commanding Third Brigade, First Division, V Corps and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment of Vincent’s brigade are very important to the outcome of the battle, but also for what they teach us about leadership and the profession of arms. This chapter focuses on Warren, in particular with his work with the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, George Meade and his actions to secure Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, the next will deal with Chamberlain and Vincent.

The battle at Little Round Top is an iconic part of American History and in particular for the Army, a key element of how leadership has been studied. It has achieved nearly mythical status due to the actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain which have been told many times in history, fiction and in film, particularly Michael Shaara’s classic historical novel The Killer Angels and its film adaptation Gettysburg. While these accounts are certainly inspiring and allow us to experience the emotion and near spiritual quality of what Chamberlain writes, there is much more to learn.

That near spiritual quality and mythic status that we accord Gettysburg is important, for in large part it is why we come to the battlefield, and why we study. Chamberlain said it well many years after Gettysburg at the dedication of the Maine Monuments:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [1]

So as we endeavor to look at the actions of these leaders on that fateful day it is important to recognize that we cannot totally separate those actions that helped decide the battle from the mythos that surrounds the story. [2] Likewise, it important to acknowledge that we cannot separate their character and the totality of military leaders lives from their actions on a particular battlefield. Unlike Chamberlain Warren does not engender myth, and that is why he is often overlooked by many casual students and observers of the Battle of Gettysburg.

For the purposes of this study it is important to note that Warren was not a commander during this action, he was, like most senior officers today, a staff officer. Many times students of military history and theory are inclined to dismiss the contributions of staff officers because they do not have the overall responsibility of a battle, or the glamour of the limelight of the commanders that they serve under. However, for military professionals, especially those serving on senior staffs who prepare campaign plans, contingency plans and crisis plans the study of officers like Warren is essential.

The Federal Army at Gettysburg, like its Confederate opponent had a wide variety of officers serving in its ranks. Many of its senior officers were graduates of West Point. Many had served together in Mexico and in the various campaigns against Native American tribes. Those who stayed in the Army during the long “peace” between the Mexican War and the outbreak of the Civil War endured the monotony, boredom and often miserable conditions of isolated army posts, long family separations, as well as low pay, slow promotion and often low social status.[3] In light of such conditions, many resigned their commissions to undertake various professional, business or academic pursuits; in fact Samuel Huntington noted that in the years before the Civil War that “West Point produced more railroad presidents than generals.” [4] However, on the outbreak of the war returned to service whether in the service of the Union, or the Confederate States.

When the war began the Army underwent a massive expansion, which it met through and the call of up militia and raising new units from the various states. In the expansion many officers were appointed who had no prior military service, or if they did it was performed years or even decades before the war. Some of these men were simply patriots who rallied to the flag, others due to a sense of righteousness about their cause, while others were political opportunists or appointees. In the north this was a particular problem as “professional officers were pushed aside and passed over in the Union, the higher commissions going, in the first stages of the war at least to officers called back into service or directly appointed from civilian life, many of them “political” appointees.” [5]

At times the lack of experience, training and sometimes the poor character of these men was tragic. However, many of these men performed as well or better than some of their regular army counterparts at various levels of command. At the same time a good number of Regular Army officers were allowed to assist states in the formation and training of these new units, one of whom was Gouverneur Warren. Gettysburg would provide opportunity for the best and worst of all of these types of officers to succeed or fail. In this chapter we will look at one of the regular officers and two of the volunteer whose lives intersected on July 2nd 1863.

Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren was typical of the many professional officers of the old army. An 1850 graduate of West Point, Warren was a bright student who had absorbed the teachings of his professor, Dennis Hart Mahan as the core of his own military thought, both in his senior year in college and through reinforcement as a faculty member. [6] Warren was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant and because of his high standing in his class was assigned to Corps of Topographical Engineers. He spent his first seven years in a number of assignments which took him throughout much of the country.

Warren’s work involved exploring and mapping for various enterprises including the project to help tame the Mississippi River, and the exploration of the Great Plains and Black Hills where he developed a sympathy for the various Sioux tribes he encountered noting on completion of his mission in 1858, writing that He had never heard a Sioux chief express an opinion in regard to what was due them in which I do not concur and that many of them view the extinction of their race as an inevitable result of the operation of present causes, and do so with all the feelings of despair with which we should contemplate the extinction of our nationality. [7] Following his years in the west he returned as faculty to West Point where he as an Assistant Professor, shared mathematics instructional duties with Oliver O. Howard and resumed his relationship with his former professor Mahan. [8]

On the outbreak of war Warren was granted leave from his duties at West Point to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers in the 5th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as Duryee’s Zouaves. Where Duryee was appointed as a Brigadier General, Warren became its Colonel, serving with it during the Peninsula campaign where he was eventually given command of a provisional brigade and promoted to Brigadier General, serving as a Brigade Commander in at Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.

At Chancellorsville he was pulled from his brigade duties by Hooker who employed him with good effect to assist his engineering staff, first with mapping and then building the fortifications that stopped the ferocious Confederate storm on the second day of battle. [9] In less than 48 hours Warren’s troops threw up five miles of the most formidable entrenchments yet constructed under battlefield conditions. [10] Edward Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery officer noted that when the Confederates came upon the fortifications after Hooker’s withdraw that “they were amazed at the strength and completeness of the enemys fortifications. [11] Following the battle Warren was appointed as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac on May 12th 1863 by Hooker. When Hooker was relieved of command and was replaced by Meade on June 28th 1863, he was kept in that position by his fellow engineer Meade rather than being promoted to a division or being assigned as Meade’s Chief of Staff. As this turned out it was a wise choice.

Warren along with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill on the night of July 1st. As Meade organized his defenses he not only depended on his advice about the ground, but “consulted him constantly at headquarters or sent him off on matters of highest importance.” [12] Meade respected Warren and had offered Warren the chance to serve as his Chief of Staff, a position that Warren, like Seth Williams, the Adjutant General declined that offer indicating that he had too much work in their departments to take on the burdens of a new job. [13] Lee appreciated Warren’s calm, absorbed, and earnest manner, his professional skill and sound judgment.[14] These qualities would serve both men and the army well on July 2nd.

When Sickles moved III Corps forward during the afternoon without permission moved his Corps forming a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard leaving the southern flank in the air, Meade was aghast. Warren who from his reconnaissance of the previous day and the morning knew the position better than anyone recognized that something was badly awry on SicklesThird Corps front  matters there were not all straight. [15] He had sent an officer to discover to investigate Sickles’ front and that officer reported that the section of Cemetery Ridge assigned to III Corps was not occupied.[16]

Meade and Warren discussed the situation and realized that III Corps “could hardly be said to be in position” [17] and knowing VI Corps was now close at hand order V Corps, at the time his only reserve into the position vacated by Sickles. They went forward and seeing the empty spaces Warren told Meade “here is where our line should be” to which Meade replied: “It’s too late now.” [18] Warren, whose familiarity with the whole of the battlefield gave him concern about Sickles’ corps dispositions suggest that Meade send him to the Federal left, “to examine the condition of affairs.” [19]

Meade concurred with his Engineer and in dispatching him he also gave Warren the authority to take charge as needed saying “I wish you would ride over there and if anything serious is going on, attend to it.” [20] Again Meade’s choice of Warren for the task demonstrated the trust that is essential in command. The two officers worked together seamlessly and as Coddington described their relationship that day: “Meade chose him to act as his alter ego in crucial moments of the battle, and Warren rendered services for which Meade and the country were to be eternally grateful.” [21]Warren would not see Meade again “until the attack had spent its force.” [22]

little round top map

Hunt noted that “The duty could not have been in better hands.” [23]When Warren arrived on Little Round Top he found it unoccupied save for a few signal corps soldiers. Warren immediately recognized the tactical value of Little Round Top and noted that it was “the key of the whole position.” [24]Warren saw that the Confederates were massing not more than a mile away and that there were no troops on the hill to stop them. He believed that an area “of woods on the near side of the Emmitsburg Road as “an excellent place for the enemy to form out of sight” [25] which was exactly what Major General John Bell Hood’s division was doing, as Henry Hunt noted “The enemy at the time lay concealed, awaiting signal for the assault…” [26] To test his suspicions Warren sent a messenger to Captain James Smith’s 4th New York artillery battery on Devil’s Den to fire a single shot into the woods. Warren described the situation:

“As the shot went whistling through the air the sound of it reached the enemy’s troops and caused every one to look in the direction of it. This motion revealed to me the glistening gun-barrels and bayonets of the enemy’s line of battle, already formed and far outflanking the position of any of our troops; so that the line of his advance from the right to Little Round Top was unopposed. I have been particular in telling this, as the discovery was intensely thrilling to my feelings, and almost appalling.” [27]

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Upon confirming his fears Warren resorted to ruse and action. He order the “signalmen to keep up their wigwag activity, simply as a pretense of alertness, whether they had any real signals to transmit or not…”[28] He also sent messengers to Meade, Sickles and Sykes, the commander of V Corps asking Meade to “Send at least a division to me” [29] instructing the messenger, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie to tell Meade “that we would at once have to occupy that place very strongly.” [30] Sickles refused on account of how badly stretched his lines were, however George Sykes of V Corps responded sending Captain William Jay to find Barnes commander of his 1st Division. The messenger could not find Barnes, but instead came across the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent knew that Barnes was self-medicating his “pre-battle anxieties out of a black commissary quart bottle” and was already “hollow from skull to boots” and demanded “What are your orders? Give me your orders.” [31] Upon learning that Sykes wanted a brigade to proceed to Little Round Top Vincent responded immediately to take the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission. Vincent told Sykes messenger “I will take the responsibility myself of taking my brigade there.” [32]

Meade’s choice of Warren was demonstrated in how Warren continued to act with alacrity and decisiveness throughout the afternoon. “As the Union line began to crumble on Little Round Top, Warren, vested with the authority of Meade’s chief representative, emerged as the right man at the right place at the right time.” [33] Warren did not stop with sending messengers, but seeing the danger building he noted that the northwest face of the hill was still unoccupied and open to attack. Warren forgot “all about a general’s dignity” he “sprinted down the east slope of the hill like a rabbit.” [34] There he found Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s brigade which he had previously commanded. Since he did not see Weed, but he found Colonel Patrick O’Rorke of the 140th New York and ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [35] When O’Rorke said that Weed expected him to be following him Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [36] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following. Warren’s actions were fortuitous as the 140th New York and Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery of the 5th Artillery arrived at the crest just in time to repulse the advancing Confederates. In the fight the brigade would take fearful casualties and by the end of the battle, Weed, O’Rorke and Hazlett would all be dead, but with Vincent’s brigade they held on and saved the Union line.[37]

Warren continued to urge on the Federal troops despite being wounded, in the words of a reporter who observed him in “a most gallant and heroic manner, riding with utmost confidence over fields swept by the enemy’s fire, seemingly everywhere present, directing, aiding, and cheering the troops.” [38] Once he was assured that Little Round Top was secure he proceeded to rejoin Meade “near the center of the battlefield where another crisis was at hand.” [39]

Warren distinguished as a Corps commander until he ran afoul of the fiery General Phillip Sheridan in 1865. Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. The relief was brutal and ruined his career. Warren was a professional soldier and took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan who in their haste at Five Forks destroyed his career.

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineeringduty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. He wrote his wife while supervising a major bridge construction project over the Mississippi River in 1867: “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [40]

He sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but he died three months before the results were published. Embittered he directed that he be buried in civilian clothes and without military honors. His funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [41] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.” [42]

Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive for, and from a leadership perspective demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command“the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates. But his life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry wrote of Warren:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [43]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize. His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [44]

Warren

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. I think that this does a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war gives up something of themselves and sometimes even heroes like Gouverneur Warren are destroyed by the actions of institutions that they serve.

Notes

[1] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

[2] Note: My use of the terms myth, mythology or mythos should not be considered negative, and the use of the terms does not mean that there is not some degree of fact or truth in them. The definitions of the term mythos are important to understanding my use of the term here, first it denotes a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure of a story, and secondly a set of beliefs or assumptions about something. (See the Oxford American Dictionary.)

[3] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 pp.37-38.

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.199

[5] Ibid. Huntington. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations p.213

[6] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.6

[7] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.30

[8] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.33

[9] Sears, Stephen W. ChancellorsvilleHoughton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.372

[10] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.91

[11] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7007

[12] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.332

[13] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 pp.129-130

[14] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.332

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.262

[16] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.319

[17] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.319

[18] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[19] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.90

[20] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[21] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[22] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.260

[23] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p. 307

[24] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[25] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[26] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. p. 307

[27] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.206

[28] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.503

[29] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.261

[31] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[32] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.127

[33] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.395

[34] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the IncredibleStan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1957 p.214

[35] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[37] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren pp. 93-94

[38] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[39] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.396

[40] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.249

[41] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[42] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[43] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[44] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xi

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